Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unhappy Meal at the NY Times

We are quite used to the NY Times' support for almost any government action that is supposedly designed to make all of our lives healthier. The paper has never met a Bloomberg Nanny initiative that it didn't gush over-and there has never been any discouraging concern from the Times editorialists about the potential dangers of government intruding into this area of people's lives.

So, as if on cue, the paper opines about the McDonald Happy meal furor-but in a close reading of its latest salvo, it's hard to discern a clear position: "According to a recent consumer survey, 37 percent of kids rank McDonald’s as the top fast-food restaurant. This is nearly four times as many as those favoring the No. 2 chain, Subway. The key is heavy advertising to children — Happy Meals account for about 10 percent of McDonald’s ad spending— and, of course, the toys. A Happy Meal of cheeseburger with fries and soda packs 640 calories, more than half the U.S.D.A. daily allowance for a sedentary child aged 4 to 8, as well as about half the allotment of fat. McDonald’s has added healthier choices to its menu — things like milk and Apple Dippers with low-fat caramel dip. But a study at 44 McDonald’s outlets from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that French fries were automatically put in the bag 93 percent of the time."

But before you start to get the erroneous idea that this is devolving into a paean to the McDonald's marketing genius, the Times points out the following: "The Happy Meal is up for some well-deserved scrutiny. Last week a mom from Sacramento filed a class-action suit supported by the center to make McDonald’s stop using toys as bait to lure children. Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a measure requiring that meals sold with toys meet a minimum standard of nutrition."

Is the suit meritorious? Not to us. Are the San Fransisco supervisors visionaries? More likely elitist busybodies. But the Times won't say what it's position is-which to us, given what we know of the paper's predilections, is pusillanimous. And we just love how the paper treats the CSPI as an unquestionable authority on all things fast food, when we know that the Center, and its maniacal director Michael Jacobsen, would ban all fast food if they could.

And what does this suit say that the Times finds so instructive? The Californian reports: "Monet Parham and her daughters had been getting along just fine with monthly visits to McDonald's, she said, until last summer's promotion for the movie "Shrek Forever After" encouraged kids to collect all of the toys. Parham's oldest daughter Maya, age 6, was particularly keen on getting the Fiona doll but really wanted them all. "I explained that the toys change every week," Parham said, to which her daughter suggested they go to the restaurant weekly. The real problem, she said, was her child's persistence. "This doesn't stop with one request," she said. "It's truly a litany of requests."

Unable to control her own brainwashed children, Parham did what any one in her situation would do-she sued: "Fed up, Parham became a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Wednesday against Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The group, which seeks class-action status for its case, is asking California to ban all marketing of Happy Meal toys."

Is this an improvement on Flip Wilson's old lament, "The devil made me do it?" But back to the issue of merit-which the Times elides while seeming to give the suit credibility: "Although Happy Meals probably aren't advisable as everyday fare, Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said that "Happy Meals have come a long way" in recent years. The problem is that most people don't order the healthy options, which "speaks to a much larger issue," she said. "It isn't about one meal, one snack, this one week of your year, it's the whole diet," she said. "It's going to take restaurants offering healthy options, parents choosing the healthy options. It's going to take a village — all of us working together."

But that's so hard-better to just take government action and ban the noxious advertising so parents won't have to do their jobs. The state is much better situated to get corrective action, anyway. The Times, for its part, remains uncommitted.

The mush continues until the editorials very end-leaving us wanting for a spicier and more forthright opinion: "Parents are responsible for their children’s diet. And they certainly could do a better job: almost 17 percent of American children are obese, three times as many as in the 1970s. But it would be easier for parents to do their job if they didn’t have to push back against the relentless tide of marketing aimed at their children."

And if we eliminate all advertising, oh well, parents do have a hard job being, you know, parents. But as negligent as some parents are, we prefer their inadequacies to all of the in loca parentis naggings of the anti-capitalists at the CSPI; and the hectors at the editorial board room of the NY Times, folks who somehow couldn't manage to spit out their true feelings about this unhappy meal situation.